Friday, February 21, 2014


There are some (actually a lot of!) Japanese words which are difficult to translate to English.

I've written about the greeting お疲れ様(otsukaresama) before.

Today, let's talk about the expression しょうがない(shouganai).

"Shouganai" is very Japanese expression and one of the most difficult words to translate.

I would describe

"I can't do anything, so I give up"

"Shouganai" is used in those situations.

-She was going to coming to our party but her schedule has been changed and she canceled. It's "shouganai".

-The shoes I wanted to buy were sold out when I went to the shop. I should've been there earlier. It's "shouganai".

-I have wrinkles on my face and I don't like them. It's "shouganai".

If the topic is very serious like earthquake or someone's death, you don't say "shouganai".
"shouganai" sounds too light for those serious situation.

When I wrote this topic on Twitter, some people suggested their ideas of translation for it.

"whatcha gonna do?"

"it can't be helped."
"It's not worth complaining about."
"That's just the way it is."

Since I don't really understand the actual nuance of those English words, I can't tell which is the "best answer" but discussing this kind of topic is always very interesting.

Oh, by the way, there are polite ways to say "shouganai", too.



Extremely polite

Having different polite level for one expression is complicated?

It's... shouganai!

Special thanks to Japan This, Billy and Richard on Twitter conversation!

Here is the website about Japan "Japan This". 
Check his informative and cool blog!


  1. This is actually a really, really interesting post! I enjoyed it a lot. You actually brought the meaning of the word to my attention, haha. しょうがない is one of those words I hear a lot, but never even think of the meaning behind it. Definitely going to make a note about this somewhere.

    I think all those translations people gave you work well for しょうがない. I think if I was translating it myself, I would phrase it different depending on the situation.

    "Whatcha gonna do?" would be appropriate if somebody was shrugging their shoulders.

    "It can't be helped" would be appropriate if somebody looked a bit sad or if they looked like they didn't care much, but were a bit disappointed by the outcome of the situation.

    "It's not worth complaining about" would be appropriate if somebody didn't seem to care (or pretended not to care) about the situation.

    "That's just the way it is" would be appropriate for somebody who seems to accept that they cannot do anything about the situation.

    I probably would also translate it to "I can't do anything about it" as well, which gives off an impression that somebody has given up on something. At least, it does to English speakers.

    (I tried to explain the nuances of those English sentences...not sure if it helped or not, haha.)

    I have to go check out more of your blog now. =P

    1. Thank you for your comments! Your explanation is very clear and I agree with your ideas.
      So! The most difficult point is that we have (much) more than one word to translate しょうがない... ;-)
      That's so confusing but the other hand this is an interesting point of language isn't it.

  2. Anonymous9:56 AM

    素敵なブログですね!いつも日本語教えてくれてありがとうございます。日本語は本当に素晴らしいと思います。Greetings for Argentina. ^.^ 頑張りましょう。

    1. どうもありがとうございます☆ 日本語は難しいと思うけど、はい、おもしろいですよね!
      ブログのupdateがんばりますので、よろしくお願いします。(^ ^)

  3. Anonymous2:37 PM

    I agree with TrainerKelly. I was going to say "There's nothing I can do about it." I heard and used "shikataganai" a lot more and never heard "shouganai." I lived in the Touhoku region for two years.


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  5. Shouganai kara

    I think the closest meaning is often (depending on the situation) is "it's not worth complaining about..."

    Almost like accepting a small defeat and burying the disappointment it in the phase. Yet still quite casual, almost light hearted.

  6. Anonymous5:44 AM

    Hi Ako !

    I just saw your page and will be poking around more.

    As an American who has been to Japan many times and speaks a fair amount of Nihongo, I would also say shouganai would translate well as-

    Can't help myself or can't help yourself.

    For example, I saw a beautiful shirt I wanted and had to buy it even though I really couldn't afford it, I couldn't help myself (shoganai)

    I think this is a little more positive way of using the word that also works for the meaning.

    Cheers !


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